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Commentary

Social Networks Blurring The Line Into Citizen Journalism

In 2006, Israel sent forces into Southern Lebanon during what is now known as the 2006 Lebanon War. Israel had security concerns about missiles harming its civilian population, but what it didn't bargain for was military citizen journalism.
In 2006, Israel sent forces into Southern Lebanon during what is now known as the 2006 Lebanon War. Israel had security concerns about missiles harming its civilian population, but what it didn't bargain for was military citizen journalism.Think, for a moment, about the potential chaos of such live war reporting: SMS messages from soldiers up front telling of deaths before families can be notified, or live videos of bloody battles recorded from cell phones and sent to the press.

In Israel, this is more problematic than with other militaries. All able citizens who have not been excused legally are drafted into the military at 18 serve for a minimum of three years, and then continue serving in active duty at least once a year as reservists. For many, this means potentially losing business by not being at work -- not to mention their families waiting to hear from them and of them being alive.

This month, two civilian incidents in the United States illustrated the problem Israel faced -- and open the broader discussion about how new social technologies impact our organizational security, and our own privacy.

First, Vaughan Ettienne, a New York City police officer, wrote his mood on his MySpace page, which, calling his judgment into question, helped the defense win a criminal trial. He marked his mood as "Devious" as one example, and in another mentioned how he likes the way business is done in the movie Training Day (in which rough policing is portrayed as fun).

Second, Johnathan Powell, a juror in a civil suit, tweeted the following about the trial from his cellular phone:


"I just gave away TWELVE MILLION DOLLARS of somebody else's money."

A motion for a new trial is already in place.

Privacy, Freedom Of Speech, And Technology Reserving judgment, cell phones are a classic example of how technology has become interlaced with our daily lives. Can we take away someone's freedom of communication if he is chosen for jury duty? Can we ask police officers not to use social networking?

The answers seem simple. Yes, we can (no Obama pun intended). It comes down to adapting our common sense to a new world.

Privacy concerns are not just about police officers' status lines or tweeting jurors. The arrested gentlemen and those on trial certainly have a reasonable expectation of privacy from the state's institutions; the officer and the juror were acting in an official capacity.

It just goes to show you: Information leakage is not just about documents anymore.

Really, it never was. Information leakage, in contrast with the sales pitches of some security vendors, is about much more than documents lost on file-sharing networks or discovered in Google searches. It's about Trojan horses sending spam from your network, announcing your weak spots to the world. It's about insecure wireless access points. It's about basic security.

Today, though, it is also about your employees' moods on MySpace. It is highly likely that your organization does not have the security concerns of a military, but your employees may not realize they are doing something wrong when they tweet, "Yes! We just closed the deal!" or "Devious" before a critical negotiation.

User education has, in my opinion, never been very successful, but you may want to see if social networks should be a part of your company's training. Set up a meeting with HR, adapt your organization's NDA to include employees' use social networking, and start collecting intelligence on your brand in social networks, as well. (Be sure to run this by your legal department to avoid employee privacy concerns.)

What About Our Rights? From a personal standpoint, though, you may say, "I want to make up my own mind, and citizen journalism helps me do that." You may also claim that the world changes, and informing families of death at war, as unfortunate as that example may be, is just one more thing that will have to adapt to change. Othen than informing families, you insensitive bully, I would agree.

Still, these institutions have their own rights. We each need to take care of ourselves under the law. My concern is not with any state's being able to explain the need for security to jurors, or cops who didn't think the crafty defense attorney will Google them. (Come on!)

My concern is about you and me. As Babylon 5 character Kosh Naranek would say, "The avalanche has already fallen -- it is too late for the pebbles to vote." Our drunken images on Facebook, or our Twitter status messages with a smart haiku in rap-speak, may not look good when one of us runs for president 20 years from now. Who is in charge of protecting us?

Privacy advocates may one day come out and say that states not allowing cops to tweet about their jobs is censorship. Or they may say that not stopping such use hurts our rights. Whose rights will come first, in my opinion, depends mostly on where the next big scandal will fall. Life is a trade-off of necessities -- a constant negotiation of balance.

Here is what I know to be true. On the Internet we need to protect ourselves. Whatever we put out there is for the world to see. Throw out the door any illusion of privacy and safety on the Internet.

Whatever you choose to do, go for it, but assume that it is public for all to see. And plan accordingly.

Follow Gadi Evron on Twitter: http://twitter.com/gadievron

Gadi Evron is an independent security strategist based in Israel. Special to Dark Reading.

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